Every player in the world of retailing has jumped on the sustainability bandwagon in the past few years, offering lofty-sounding mission and policy statements and initiatives that sound good but defy concrete definitions. Likewise, the universe of consumers has embraced the sustainable concept, but cannot agree on what it means.
A 2020 survey of 2,000 U.S. and UK individuals by CGS, a business applications provider, found that half or more rated sustainability as an important factor in their purchase decisions. But when asked to define sustainable, one in four Americans said it was waste reduction and eco-friendliness, while another 22% defined it as ethical practices.
The two go together in theory, but that doesn’t tell you much about what sustainability looks like on the ground where commerce takes place, evidenced in part by the fact that half of those respondents in the CGS survey said brands aren’t demonstrating sustainable practices. How would they know?
The confusion begins with the inconvenient truth that there is no such thing as truly sustainable retail in a supply-driven world, especially so in fashion and similar discretionary purchases.
So where to start?
In my mind, sustainability in retail is waste reduction, pure and simple.